Back on board

Retailers  Paul and Mary Hogan outside their 1,500 sq ft Mace in Ennis,  Co Clare
Retailers Paul and Mary Hogan outside their 1,500 sq ft Mace in Ennis, Co Clare

After suffering the full force of the downturn in the motor industry, retailer Paul Hogan says he’s now confident convenience - coupled with value - is the way forward.



18 March 2010

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Hogan’s Mace
Lahinch Road, Ennis,
Co Clare

Owners Paul and
Mary Hogan
Size 1,500 sq ft
Staff 16; 12 full-time,
4 part-time

Striking a dent in Ireland’s burgeoning live register is by no means an inconsiderable feat for any retailer to pull off, given the signs of the times. Yet, that’s what Paul and Mary Hogan managed to do when they re-opened the doors of their Mace in Ennis, Co Clare, at the start of this month. In creating 16 new jobs, they delivered an added advantage to Ennis town by helping 14 locals off the live register.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, when owner Paul Hogan advertised for retail staff in the paper, he found himself inundated with replies. “There’s really good quality people available to work right now. It was very difficult to pick our staff because there were so many good people we couldn’t take.”

If the downside though, was having to examine reams of CVs, he and his wife Mary have now been more than compensated for their time. They’re secure in the knowledge that they’ve managed to assemble the best team possible for their store.

Customer service essential

MaceA key requirement for all successful staff was the ability to offer excellent customer service. “We put an emphasis on getting friendly, customer orientated people,” says Hogan. This was especially important for him, given that the shop is a family business in which he and Mary both have hands-on roles. “I think husband and wife teams and family businesses are the way business is going to go forward, with the owners being involved in the day to day operation of the business.”

A focus on strong customer service has also loomed large in Hogan’s family background. His father Tom established Tom Hogan’s Motors in 1977, which over the years grew to include five branches. Due to the heavy down-turn in the car trade however, this side of the business closed in June of last year. The Lynch Road forecourt, which was originally opened in 2000, also closed in June, up until its re-launch this month.

Forecourt retailing isn’t a step into the unknown for the retail savvy Hogans therefore, with the family also previously owning petrol stations on the Gort Road and the Limerick Road in Ennis. Keeping their sights on re-building the business, the team are hoping to re-enter the motor trade by selling cars on the Lahinch Road site and have also diversified by opening up a car repair centre in Ennis.

Already, this has created a further three jobs for the area. “We hope that in the next six months, we would have an extra 10 people working with us, when we get the car sales and workshop fully up and running,” adds Hogan.

Convenience marries value

Having already been dealt a severe blow by the dramatic drop in consumers’ discretionary spend though, does he now feel that convenience retailing is the way forward? “Convenience is the way forward, provided there’s go

od value as well,” is his considered verdict.  

“You’re never going to be as cheap as the Aldis and the Lidls, but if people know that you’re offering value, through strong pricing, own brand products and special offers, they’ll come to you. You’re not going to get the grocery shop, you never are, but there is a place in the market for convenience, providing customer service is combined with value.”

Eliminating “pet hates” is another strategy at the top of his agenda to increase customer satisfaction. “We’re giving customers brown paper bags instead of the plastic bags,” he explains. “All your own pet hates when you go into a filling station, we’re trying to address all those, such as when you go in and buy half a dozen items and have to carry them out in your arms.”

“All the filling stations at the moment are self-service,” he continues. What we’re trying to do is make it clear that if somebody wants service, they can ask any member of staff, and we’ll go out and fill their car for them. We’re focusing on good front-line service. There’s no rocket science behind the business, it’s about asking people what they want and giving them that.”

Location, location, location

So far, so good on the customer satisfaction front. The day after its opening, the store had already received plenty of praise. “We didn’t advertise that we were opening, but once the doors were open, loads of people came in… They were all saying it was great to see it opening.”

And as well as being located in a strong residential area, the store has the twin advantage of being ideally situated to snap up passing trade.

“We’re the first filling station just off the Ennis by-pass as you head towards Lahinch, so it’s a good location for someone coming from Dublin or Limerick and heading up to Lahinch for the weekend,” explains Hogan.

An essential piece of the jigsaw which allowed the store to re-open and benefit from this central location, was the support the Hogans received from suppliers, including both BWG’s central billing department and local suppliers such as Paul Keating’s Fruit and Veg, Building contractor Tom Howard was likewise instrumental in delivering the store’s new lease of life; creating a “completely different interior and exterior.

“Pat Reddin in BWG has been exceptionally good to us and Eugene Treacy of Esso, as well as Kelly Refrigeration,” adds Hogan.

He explains that loyalty to his former suppliers was an important consideration in kick-starting the store. “I decided to ask all my former creditors first, do you want to come back and do business with us and they all did. So I didn’t look at anybody else; it’s a loyalty thing. But having said that, they all still had a good product that I was happy with.”

Building on this positive progress, Hogan says he now intends “to be best store in our area, and to provide the best service in the area. If we can do that, we won’t have any problems business wise.” He adds with a chuckle: “That’s the plan anyway.” Sounds like a good one to us.



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